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UK Data Regulator Uncovers Flaws in Google’s Privacy Sandbox Proposal

 |  April 22, 2024

The U.K.’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has identified significant gaps in Google’s proposed alternative to third-party cookies, known as the Privacy Sandbox, and raised concerns regarding the adequacy of user privacy protections within Google’s proposed solutions.

According to documents obtained by the Wall Street Journal, the ICO has expressed apprehensions that loopholes within the Privacy Sandbox framework could potentially be exploited to track users and compromise their anonymity. This discovery directly contradicts the stated objective of the initiative, which aims to curtail online tracking while preserving the openness of the internet.

The ICO is now urging Google to reinforce the privacy safeguards embedded within the Privacy Sandbox. Additionally, these concerns have been shared with the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), the regulatory body responsible for overseeing competition in the U.K.

The CMA, as per the report, will take into account the recommendations put forth by the ICO during its evaluation of Google’s proposals.

In response to these revelations, a spokesperson for Google reiterated the company’s commitment to collaborating with regulators globally to devise a solution that strikes a balance between user privacy and the sustainability of the digital ecosystem.

Read more: Google Appeals €2.4B Antitrust Fine at Top EU Court

Google’s Privacy Sandbox initiative is intended to serve as a comprehensive solution to address privacy concerns associated with third-party cookies. By enabling websites to directly query Chrome for user interests derived from browsing history, the initiative aims to offer a more privacy-centric alternative to traditional tracking cookies.

However, while technically compatible with other browsers, concerns have been raised by industry players such as Apple and Mozilla regarding certain aspects of the technology.

This recent development follows a series of engagements between Google and regulatory authorities. In 2021, the CMA launched an investigation into the Privacy Sandbox, prompting Google to offer a set of commitments in 2022 aimed at ensuring fair competition.

While acknowledging some progress made by Google earlier this year in addressing competition concerns, the CMA cautioned that significant issues still persist. Of primary concern to the regulator is Google’s dominant market position, with fears that the current design of the Privacy Sandbox could potentially grant Google an unfair advantage, allowing the company to prioritize its own advertising services within the framework.

Furthermore, the CMA is seeking assurances from Google that it will not exploit the Privacy Sandbox to further entrench its control over existing ad infrastructure, particularly Google Ad Manager, which holds a significant share of the U.K. display ad market.

Source: WSJ